Thursday, April 28, 2016

3 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Dishes When You Have Kids: Guest Post

I was honored when my friend Anjanette over at AnjanetteBarr.com asked me to contribute to her book Dinner at Home. She is a long time friend (we're actually from the same city but didn't meet until college) and her husband and I went to library school together. She has 4 kids and I am amazed by her, honestly. I can barely get anything done with 2 little ones! She, like me, struggled with domesticity (is that a word? If not, I think it should be) when starting her own home and wrote Dinner at Home to provide some hints she's learned along the way for those of us who might struggle with cooking. Cooking is not my forte and I definitely picked up some tips from this book, it's perfect for any skill level. Plus, I shared one of my ultimate cooking failures in the book so make sure to read it just for that! Anjanette was kind enough to do a guest post for me to share with you her 3 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Dishes When You Have Kids. I can't be the only one ignoring a sink full of dishes right now, right?

Doing Dishes with Kids

I'm pretty convinced there's such a thing as a "homemaking gene," and that I didn't get it. Nothing in this realm comes intuitively or enjoyably for me. I have to take each chore as it comes and just do the next thing.

Still, after 10 years of homemaking - 8 with children - I am much more proficient (and efficient) than I was when I started. Trust me, there was a time that all homemaking - especially the aspects that involved time in the kitchen - was intimidating for me. I even wrote a book about it! But, thank Heaven; I've learned a short cut or two along the way!

One of the most difficult hurdles for me to overcome is how relentless things like dirty dishes are when you have lots of mouths eating lots of food every day. We homeschool, so we have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snack's worth of dishes at the end of each day. Since I have four children, that's no small pile.

But I do have a few secrets.

No, I'm not going to say paper plates. ;)

I'll disclose right away that I fill the dishwasher at least once a day. I haven't managed to cut back so much as to avoid that, but without these tips, I think I could easily be doing two or more loads a day!

1. Keep track of cups.

My mom worked as a daycare provider while I was growing up, and I remember how serious she was about us keeping our own cup colors straight. She rinsed them out after each drink and kept them on the kitchen counter. Back then we used the same cup for juice, milk, water, and soda without washing it thoroughly. I'm too much of a germaphobe for that, but I'll tell you what's worked for us.

The first is a lifestyle choice - we only drink water. It's cheap, life-giving, and doesn't leave any flavors in cups to leech into the next drink. The only exception we regularly make is that adults have coffee in the morning, and kids have herbal tea in the afternoon. We drink those in one sitting and then put the cups directly in the dishwasher.

The second help is that we've borrowed and modified my mom's color-coding scheme. Since the only liquid in the cups is water, I feel fine using the same cup all day - or even for two days - as long as the kids keep track of whose cup is whose. We prefer glass to plastic, so we usually use mason jars.  We tried using different sizes/shapes/brands of jars, but the kids started to argue. Now we use identical jars, but we color-code them by keeping colored rubber bands on them. We also restrict drinking to the kitchen or dining room, and have them keep cups on one side of the counter when they aren't eating a meal so that cups don't run around the house and get lost.

2. Simplify the dinner service.

I love those restaurants that serve foods "family style." In Japan (where I studied in college) we'd sometimes visit a yakiniku (grilled meat) diner where we were given a huge plate of raw meat veggies, which we dipped in sauces and cooked on a grill in the middle of the table.

And how much do you love looking hotdogs or hamburgers on the grill? Everyone just takes a plate and stands around waiting to serve themselves, right? You don't even technically have to provide plates if you are in the yard with family and close friends!

The way we replicate that causal dinner service in our home is to sometimes serve a variety of foods on one platter. The meal pictured with my children was one they ate with their fingers - no plates and no utensils! In fact, I didn't even prepare that meal - they did! We've loved improving their kitchen skills with the course Kids Cook Real Food.

3. Double-duty while you're at it.

Another strategy that saves both dishes and time is to cook in bulk. Even making double portions will save you from washing that pot or skillet twice, but if you can make larger batches, you'll really reap rewards. Use your biggest pot to make chili even if it's way more than you can eat, and then freeze the extra. Bake three dozen cookies or muffins and then separate them into batches that you can get through without gorging.

You may also consider cooking extra quantities of single ingredients, which is a meal planning strategy I recommend in Dinner at Home. That way when you need diced onion, you not only save a few minutes of chopping, but you can keep that knife in the knife block entirely. I like to make or prepare bulk batches of things like beans, rice, ground beef, and chopped veggies (freeze without cooking to maintain texture.)

Take time today to pay attention to what gets dirty in your home. If you figure out that your children use an excessive amount of a particular type of dish or utensil, try one of these strategies or come up with your own plan! I'd love to know what works for you!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Family Game Night: Top Picks for Toddlers & Preschoolers with Winning Moves Games

Disclosure: I received 3 of these games from Winning Move Games in order to facilitate this review. No other compensation was received and all opinions are 100% honest and my own.

Friday nights have officially turned into family game night in our house and we are all loving it. Mike and I played tons of board games before having kids but with young kids and little sleep, it was hard to find time to enjoy them. Now that the kids are older (Connor is 3 and Grace is 5) they are starting to enjoy playing games and actually following the rules, sometimes at least! It's taken some time to find games we can all enjoy together so I thought I'd share our top picks of games for toddlers and preschoolers.
 1. Hi Ho Cheerio- This is such a simple and fun game. It's perfect for short attention spans and really helps little ones work on their counting. The only downside is that somehow we always seem to end up with cherries on the floor and I'm pretty sure we've lost a few. This is one the kids ask to play over and over. 

2, Moose Caboose- Moose Caboose is a new game for us and it is by far Grace's favorite. To play, each player connects animal train cards by matching colors. The animals are adorable and when you play a "Moose Caboose" card, you collect all of the cards in that train series. Whoever has the most cards at the end wins. It is great for learning colors and we've noticed Grace learning the strategy of when is the best time to play the infamous caboose cards. Mike and I were surprised by how much we enjoy this game and even our older nieces and nephews like it. It's easy to learn and a game takes about 15-20 minutes. It's a perfect beginning card game for preschoolers.

 3. Candy Land- There is a reason Candy Land has been around for more than 65 years! This vintage favorite has been a hit with my kids since we started playing it when they were 2. Much to my frustration, the modern version sold in stores currently features a spinner rather than the original cards. The spinner causes more problems than it's worth in my opinion (the kids always end up arguing over what the spinner arrow is pointing to) so I much prefer the cards. I was ecstatic when Winning Moves sent us the classic version with the original board and cards. We play it during family game night but the kids often request to play it by themselves.

4. Crocodile Dentist- Sometimes with little ones, short games are best. Crocodile Dentist is about as simple as it gets, each player takes a turn pushing down one tooth until, CHOMP the croc surprises you! These photos were taken the first time the croc chomped and despite the fuzziness, the joy on their faces was amazing. They laugh hysterically every time we play this game. Plus they think it's hilarious to make me play as I have a well known phobia of crocodiles. This game is a perfect travel game as there are no detachable pieces and a round only takes a few minutes at most. I will say that my husband, the software engineer, has figured out the mechanics so he never loses. I am still trying to figure out how he knows which tooth is the magic one every single time!

5. Chutes and Ladders- This is another classic game that my kids love. It's perfect for practicing counting.

Our kids definitely inherited our competitive sides so family game night will be a tradition we continue for years to come. What games do you play during family game night? 

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